Universal Credit zero hours contract workers and new right to “request” fixed hour contracts is meaningless?


The BBC is reporting that the review into zero hour contracts is likely to say workers on zero hour contracts should be given right to “request” a fixed hour contract. However, this proposal will also come into direct conflict with the Universal Credit (UC) obligation to seek better or more paid work and crucially not give up any paid work or face benefit sanctions.

Welfare Reform Act 2012
2012 c. 5 Part 1 CHAPTER 2 Work-related requirements Section 17

(1) In this Part a “work search requirement” is a requirement that a claimant take

(a) all reasonable action, and

(b) any particular action specified by the Secretary of State,

for the purpose of obtaining paid work (or more paid work or better-paid work).
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/5/section/17  (emphasis added)

So if a zero hour worker who claims UC and has a work search requirement was to move to a fixed hour contract, but that decision resulted in being paid less they are at risk of benefit sanctions, thus making fulfillment of  this “request” punitive.

In typical Kafkaesque language the DWP says that they “do not directly influence” UC claimants decisions in this type of situation, but would merely “provide the individual with  information around the merits of each job, and any associated consequences or possible sanctions to enable them to make a decision themselves”.

Making a “request” suggests an employer can say no and workers who do move from a zero hour to a fixed term contract and have UC work search requirements will still be required to take up any additional offers of zero hour, temp or casual work or face benefit sanctions if declined.





#BenefitSanctions are not Unfair, Unjust, Exploitative or Punitive…

‘Must Benefit Sanctions Be Stopped Without Exceptions in UK’? Or is it acceptable to only seek a ‘fairer non punitive benefit sanctions regime’, whilst appearing to oppose all benefit sanctions?

Below are some comments and extracts on Labour, SNP, Tory and Unite the Union’s approach to these questions.

“There will be an end to zero-hours contracts”
Speech: Tony Blair (1995)

When campaigning against something such as fox hunting, if it has a slogan pretext or preface like ‘stop unfair fox hunting’, use of the word unfair implies that some foxhunting is fair.

For instance:

Is saying that not all zero-hours contracts are exploitative and therefore this ban is not an outright ban. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto now promises to “Ban zero hours contracts”.

No to:

  • unfair benefit sanctions”

clearly expresses the view than many sanctions are fair.


Unite the Union campaigns to “stop” benefit sanctions using the hash tag #no2sanctions and campaigns to end unfair and unjust benefit sanctions. Clearly implying there can be fair and just benefit sanctions.


“More and more people are being hit by unfair and unjust benefit sanctions
Source: Flyer: ‘Stop benefit sanctions‘ – Unite Community/Unite the Union. March 2015 (emphasis added) – accessed 20/05/17 – (pdf) (emphasis added)

With regards Labour’s 2017 manifesto on Social Security, there is a call to:

Not only does this imply that many sanctions are not punitive it is only a call to end a regime, suggesting that a non punitive benefit sanctions regime is possible. This is therefore not a call to end benefit sanctions (#no2sanctions).

Here two words need careful analysis:

[1] punitive and

[2] regime.

as well as omission, such as the word “punitive” in:
Image 1

or “all” as discussed below.


“A Liberal Democrat government would scrap all benefit sanctions” + [1] [2]
Source: Disability news service. 18/05/17

sounds very promising. However, there is no such undertaking in the Lib Dem manifesto and this proposal stems from a Lib Dem 2016 conference and associated policy papers, which actually says:

“Liberal Democrats would scrap fixed penalty sanctions and instead implement flexible sanctioning guidelines. Benefit sanctions would be directed centrally, based on information from a claimant’s record. Sanctions would only be enforced once the situation had been discussed with the claimant’s local advisor, to ensure that sanctioning was appropriate”
Source: ‘Policy Papers – Autumn Conference 2016′ – ‘Mending the Safety Net’.

which is bears little resemblance to scrapping “all” benefit sanctions.*

The majority of Benefit Sanctions and Conditionality policies are reserved to the Westminster parliament, even so the Scottish National Party has been forthright in it’s opposition to sanctions, but it still only seeks a ‘fair’ regime. SNP’s 2017 manifesto says:

“Only a strong team of SNP MPs can take the
fight to Theresa May and halt the unfair benefit
sanctions regime” (emphasis added)

SNP MP Mhairi Black introduced a Private Members Bill to mitigate against benefit sanctions, implying some claimants are more deserving of sanctions without delay compared to those that “require” an “assessment” (undeserving – “carers, the homeless and the mentally ill“) before sanctions are considered. The Bill did not go forward “Despite SNP MPs packing out our benches, Labour MPs, aside from a few notable exceptions, failed to turn up and that meant a Tory Minister could use parliamentary tactics to deny us the opportunity to vote on it”

“Mhairi Black:

If we must have benefit sanctions, let’s make them fairer
Source: The National – 16/07/16

“I’m not giving up the fight for a fairer UK sanctions regime” (emphasis added)
Source: SNP – 04/12/16

SNP “Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime…and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.” (emphasis added)
Source: Welfare Weekly – SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime – 19/3/17

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Source: George Orwell in Politics and the English Language – 1946

Notes: What is the difference for benefit claimants between a sanction, a disallowance and a suspension of benefits? Both Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP seem to be referring to the JSA and ESA benefit sanctions regime introduced during the  2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition administration. Ending a punitive fixed penalty benefit sanctions regime is not the same as ending “all” benefit sanctions, just implied proposals for a new  ‘just‘ and ‘fair‘ regime.

*Edit [2]:

*Edit [1]: Apparently a Lib Dem conference voted to end “all” benefit sanctions. But why the policy paper in question has not been amended to reflect this is unknown at present. It still remains that no such promise exists in the Lib Dem 2017 manifesto. Unable to find details of the amended policy, but did find:

“V  Sanctions applied to benefits are fundamentally wrong and leave people destitute who are already in poverty; the sanction system should be scrapped and replaced with an incentivised scheme.

Vi The sanctions system should allow greater scope for discretion with a stronger safety net to prevent sanctions causing extreme hardship; employment support should be separated from benefits delivery, which includes responsibility for sanctions.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 124, Mending the Safety Net, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on working-age Social Security, and particularly welcomes its proposals to:…

“Scrapping fixed penalty sanctions and instead implementing flexible guidelines with added safeguards so no one can fall below a minimum income”…”
Source: ” F31: Mending the Safety Net (Social Security Policy Paper) Federal Policy Committee” Accessed 20/05/17

but can’t find anything explicitly referring to “all” benefit sanctions, only that Lib Dems would seek to end “fixed penalty” sanctions in any post June 8th 2017 administration.





Compulsory zero wage youth #workfare conscription set to be expanded

The Conservative 2017 manifesto flags up the high probability* that the
Youth Obligation Benefit Scheme, that includes compulsory zero wage Work Experience, Traineeships & the Sector Based Work Academy, will be expanded to include youth up to age 24, from it’s current 18 to 21. This could also mean cuts on automatic entitlement to housing costs/benefit could increase to age 24 from 21.

“More people in work

We will also provide targeted support for young people between the ages of 18 and 24 so that everyone, no matter; what their start in life, is given the very best chance of getting into work”
Source: Conservative manifesto. 18/05/17

*Assuming the Tory administration remains in power after June 8th 2017.






PLP letter to Work and Pensions SoS about @DWP’s 80% target to deny #BenefitSanctions appeals (mandatory reconsiderations)

The Public law project has sent a letter of concern to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, requesting clarification on the DWP’s internal Mandatory reconsideration (MR) process, that has an 80% performance “target” to uphold it’s own decisions, including benefit sanctions.

“PLP is deeply troubled by the apparent imposition of a performance target on MR decision makers to uphold 80% of original decisions. We are also concerned by the high proportion of MR decisions which uphold the original decision given this performance target and in a context in which (a) the number of appeals fell significantly   after   the   introduction   of   mandatory   reconsideration 1 ‘  (b)   the
percentage of appeals which succeed is 38%, and as high as 63% where a representative is involved in the appeal 2
Source: Public law project: Letter to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – 16/05/17

Independent: Department for Work and Pensions ‘has outrageous target’ to reject 80% of benefits appeals 17/05/17

Note: A Social Security claimant can appeal to an independent tribunal against a decision, but first they “must ask for mandatory reconsideration within a month of the https://twitter.com/HenryBrooke1/status/865531614427725824date of a decision about:”

Attendance Allowance
Bereavement Allowance
Carer’s Allowance
Child Benefit
child maintenance (sometimes known as ‘child support’)
Compensation Recovery Scheme (including NHS recovery claims) – contact the Compensation Recovery Unit before you appeal to the tribunal
Diffuse Mesotheliomia Payment Scheme
Disability Living Allowance
Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
Funeral Payments
Guardian’s Allowance
Income Support
Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
Maternity Allowance
Pension Credit
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
Sure Start Maternity Grant
tax credits
Universal Credit
Vaccine Damage Payment




DWP admits an 80% target to deny appeals against benefit sanctions and it’s decisions

This appears to be an absolutely outrageous interference by the executive with the rule of law….

But it is altogether unspeakable that DWP managers seek to incentivise those who turn these applications down – and what is more, they do not make this policy public.

It would be good if this extraordinary disclosure were to provoke uproar in the highest places.”
Source: Mandatory reconsiderations and the rule of law 15/05/17

“The key measures which are used by the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor
Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) performance are:

a) 90% to be cleared within target.

b) 80% of the original decisions are to be upheld.

The performance measures for April 2016 – March 2017 are:

% MR Cleared within target = 70.2%

% MR Original Decision Upheld = 87.5%

Upheld – percentage of MRs where the decisions have either been unfavourable to the claimant or where the previous decision has been maintained”   (emphasis added)
Source: DWP FOI response 15/05/17: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/402400/response/978248/attach/html/2/FOI%201740%20response.pdf.html

#YouthObligation: DWP confirms Work Experience, Traineeships & Sector Based Work Academy now mandatory

With the introduction of the Youth Obligation benefit scheme, today the DWP released internal guidance confirming previously ‘voluntary’ the back to work schemes:

  1. Work expereince*
  2. Traineeships
  3. Sector based work academy

are all now mandatory for young aged 18 to 21, when not in employment or undertaking an apprenticeship and have been claiming Universal Credit full service (UCFS) for six months. With this framework apprenticeships are also mandatory as failing to start one within 6 months of being on UCFS mean 1 ,2 and 3 will be mandated, with £ sanctions if declined.

We’ll be using work experience much more creatively” [making it mandatory]
Source: Speech – New DWP Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb, outlines his priorities on welfare reform.  12 April 2016

DWP internal guidance:

“Youth Obligation – mandatory participation…

Claimants who are still in the IWSR (Intensive Work Search Regime),
who have not taken up an apprenticeship and are still not in employment at the 6 month point will be expected to start one of the following:

–  traineeship (or equivalent in Scotland and Wales),

–  sector based work academy (or equivalent in Scotland and Wales),

–  3 month guaranteed work experience to give them the skills they need to
move into sustainable employment.

If the claimant fails to undertake any of the mandatory elements above, a
[sanction] might apply”
Source: DWP FoI response -3rd May 2017


Youth Workfare: Direct Action and Campaigning Against

“Suggested actions and considerations, from the 2016 Welfare Action Gathering workshop on The Future of Workfare, specific to the Youth Obligation/Workfare for 18 to 21 years olds: Undertake a Welfare Action Gathering dedicated to young people, whilst caution expressed about…” Continue reading

*Note: Historically the DWP has used the term ‘work placement‘, when referring to mandatory no wage forced-labour (workfare) for benefits. Just like the 6 month full time no wage Community Work Placement (CWP) scheme abused the commonly held understanding of ‘Community Work’, the DWP is seeking to again deliberately con by using the term ‘work experience’ to conflate this compulsory workfare, with the 500,000+ ‘voluntary’ no wage work experience places jobcentres have offered since 2011.

Anti workfare campaigners have not given much attention to ‘voluntary’ forms of workfare, the DWP has used this lack of resistance to set up an entire system of forced-labour built upon 500,000+ trojan horses. Worryingly the Guardian recently sent the term workfare down a memory hole and could not even bring itself to call no wage forced unpaid labour for benefits as workfare.

Join Boycott Workfare‘s campaign against forced-unpaid-labour and sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary.